'Fear the Walking Dead' rewinds zombie apocalypse

Elizabeth Rodriguez and Lorenzo James Henrie in "Fear the Walking Dead." (Frank Ockenfeis 3/AMC)

* FEAR THE WALKING DEAD. 9 p.m. Sunday, AMC.

THE LAST thing that high-school guidance counselor Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) needs is a zombie apocalypse.

As AMC's "Fear the Walking Dead" opens Sunday, Madison's drug-addicted son, Nick (Frank Dillane), is missing. She and her English teacher boyfriend, Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), are new to living together and the blending of their families - which also include her daughter, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), and his son, Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) - isn't going smoothly.

Plus, there may be some problem with the kitchen sink, though Travis seems to have that under control.

So, really, she's slammed. But since there's no escaping the power of AMC's monster hit "The Walking Dead," which was going to get a spinoff sooner or later, Madison's just going to have to deal with it.

Whatever "it" is.

The brainchild of mothership creator, Robert Kirkman, and showrunner, Dave Erickson, the six-episode "Fear," which has already been renewed for a second season, brings us to Los Angeles and back to the beginning of an outbreak that we know is going to get much, much worse.

Or better, depending on how much you enjoy the devastation of humanity depicted in "The Walking Dead." (That show returns Oct. 11 for season six.)

Zombie-challenged as I am, I so far prefer the spinoff, despite some misgivings about the choice of some early victims. (All I can say now without spoiling plot points is that there appears to be a pattern - one that Erickson denied exists.)

You won't have to go far into the 90-minute premiere of "Fear" to catch sight of a dead-eyed face-chewer, but the first two episodes are more about the gradual realization that there's something going around that no one's really equipped to handle.

"We structured the season in a way that they're still somewhat insulated from the greater truth of what's going on," Erickson told reporters late last month.

"I think [Kirkman's] goal was to examine elements of the original show and of the comic that he hadn't had a chance to do before," Erickson said.

That also gave the producers an opportunity to employ a new lexicon.

"We call them infected. We don't call them walkers. We're coming up with as much cool West Coast verbiage as we can," said Erickson, who nevertheless promised that "we will see walkers," even if they're called something else.

Why, then, "Fear the Walking Dead"?

"We wanted 'Walking Dead' in the title," he said, "and what we wanted to avoid was doing 'The Walking Dead: Los Angeles.' So we put something in the beginning rather than at the end."

Just don't hold your breath waiting for crossovers. While not exactly a prequel, "Fear" exists in the same storytelling universe, but in an earlier timeline.

The coma that Rick (Andrew Lincoln) woke from in season 1 of "The Walking Dead" was, "per Kirkman . . . approximately four to five weeks," Erickson said.

"I think if you track the trajectory of our story, the starting point's not dissimilar. So we probably go maybe three weeks over the course of our first season. [There may be] a time that may come when we catch up with their chronology, but it's not part of my thinking right now."

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